Balls: Thanks, Pop, Warriors needed that 

click to enlarge Gregg Popovich
  • Sue Ogrocki/AP File photo
  • San Antonio Spurs coach Gregg Popovich's policy of resting players throughout the regular season helped the Warriors to avoid playing the Spurs in at least the first two rounds of the playoffs.
The Warriors couldn’t have picked a better road to the NBA Finals if they had paved it themselves, and for that, they have at least one person to thank.

Hey, that’s you, Gregg Popovich!

Popovich rested his old wheezers early and often in the regular season and, Hall of Famer or not, it doesn’t seem like such a bright idea right now. The decision left the defending champs with no margin for error in their bid for the No. 2 playoff seed. Sure enough, in a must-win situation, they spit the bit against a younger, more athletic New Orleans Pelicans team and tumbled down, down, down, down to the sixth spot as a result.

The Spurs and the Los Angeles Clippers are the teams the Warriors would like to avoid if possible in the next few weeks. Now that the Spurs and the Clippers will collide in Round 1, the Warriors won’t have to face both of them. After the Warriors make short work of the Pelicans to open the playoffs, they’ll meet the survivor of the Memphis Grizzlies-Portland Trail Blazers series. Neither team should scare them.

Just like that, the Spurs are in trouble. They'll almost certainly have to win at least one road game in every series in order to stay alive. And they may have to do it with center Tiago Splitter at less than full strength. While Splitter sat out the final game because of a bum calf, Anthony Davis went off 31 points and 13 rebounds. Splitter is expected to return in the playoff opener, but who knows how long he’ll last.

Just think: If Coach Pop had played Tim Duncan or Manu Ginoboli or Tony Parker even a few more minutes in the regular season, it might have been enough to secure the second spot. Now the league’s oldest team will have to do it the hard way.

Ain’t happenin’.

TAKE GOLIATH IN FOUR: If the Pelicans were to shock the NBA world in Round 1 — cue laugh track here — it would be an upset of monumental proportions. Yet as the Warriors know, this kind of thing has happened before and not that long ago. In 2007, the 42-40 Warriors knocked off the 67-15 Dallas Mavericks in six games.

Here’s why history won’t repeat itself: Those Warriors owned the Mavericks, a team they swept by three, 17 and 29 points in the regular season. These Warriors have dominated the Pelicans, a team it would have swept if not for a few curious calls the last time they met.

GOOD RIDDANCE, RUSSELL: After his Oklahoma City Thunder were eliminated from the playoffs, whiny Russell Westbrook said the the scoring title meant nothing to him. Well, for about 30 minutes, anyway.

Balls has no doubt that the competitor in Westbrook wanted to be in the playoffs — so he could be in the spotlight for a few more days. He’s always been a stats freak, and after teammate Kevin Durant went down, he had the license to become an even more shot-happy egomaniac and took full advantage of it.

Westbrook became so obsessed with triple-doubles that he quibbled over a 10th rebound one night. So badly did he want to be the All-Star Game Most Valuable Player, he hoisted 32 total shots in 26 minutes. He also accidentally on purpose tried to miss a free throw in the same game so he could tie the points record. In a crucial loss the other night, he hoisted 43 shots while his teammates stood around like mannequins most of the time. Really now, does this sound like a guy who can care less about his first scoring title?

Westbrook is the anti-Curry, a guy who has to get his first, and if his team happens to win, well, that’s great, too. For him to be considered a serious MVP candidate is just plain silly.

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